By Jackie Stapleton
Traditionally, quality management systems (QMS) have emphasized adherence to rigid procedures and documentation, potentially hindering responsiveness and customer satisfaction. I aim to challenge this notion and advocate for a more flexible QMS that embraces the concept of “being in the moment” to enhance customer service. This initiates a journey to explore how auditors and consultants can foster a culture that strikes a balance between structure and adaptability, ultimately resulting in a more responsive and customer-centric QMS.
Quest for Quality
The quest for quality within an organization is not a static journey; it is dynamic and ever-evolving. ISO 9001:2015 encourages this evolution by advocating for a QMS that is not only procedural but also perceptual, aligning documented evidence with the specific realities of daily operations. It fosters a culture where ‘being in the moment’ is not in conflict with following procedures but is an integral part of the process.
This cultural mindset shift requires a delicate balance between compliance and flexibility, allowing employees to interpret and apply procedures in a way that enhances customer satisfaction without compromising the integrity of the QMS. It is about embedding the quality mindset into the DNA of the organization’s culture, where the focus on customer satisfaction becomes as instinctive as following the procedures themselves.
In the same vein, from the perspective of audit and auditor requirements, ISO 19011 Guidelines for auditing management systems, complement this by providing a framework for auditors to recognize and appreciate the adaptability within systems during their evaluations.
Look beyond the Paperwork
Auditors can be encouraged to look beyond the paperwork and understand the essence of the procedures in practice. They can assess not just whether the procedures are followed, but how they are applied ‘in the moment’ to meet customer needs effectively. Such an approach encourages a richer, more comprehensive understanding of an organization’s QMS, focusing on the spirit of quality rather than the strict criteria requirements.
This not only enhances the auditing process but also encourages organizations to cultivate a responsive and customer-centric approach within their quality management practices. Through this dual lens of structure and adaptability, organizations can craft a QMS that is resilient, responsive, and truly customer focused.
Smart Auditing: When Culture Shapes Quality
As an auditor, I am very familiar with the ISO 9001 standard, and I was conducting an audit on a civil construction company’s system. I saw something interesting: the employees weren’t just following the procedures and checklists explicitly; they were improving them in ways that weren’t yet official. They had tweaked their tasks to work better and safer.
For example, I watched as Marco’s team changed up a project operations process to make things run smoother. Instead of marking this as an issue or gap, I talked to them to get the full picture. Their smart changes were actually supported by their bosses because they worked well.
Considering this, in my report, I praised the business for letting their workers take charge like this. I did write an observation to consider the update of their procedure to include these smart changes. My goal was to show that good quality comes from a mix of following the rules and letting people think for themselves.
In the Harvard Business Review article Create Stories That Change Your Company’s Culture, it talks about how to change your company’s culture to match its goals. It says that changing culture is hard. Culture is about what people at your company believe and how they act. It’s everywhere, and people usually don’t like to change how they work or who they work with.
The writers found out that the best leaders don’t start with meetings or new rules when they want to change culture. They tell real stories about things that don’t fit the old culture but fit the new one they want. These stories are real, about the leaders, and show a new way forward that’s different from the past. They make people feel something and remember them. The best part is these stories encourage everyone to make their own stories about the changes. This way, everyone helps make the new company culture.
The Iceberg of Excellence: Visible Procedures, Invisible Culture
Now that we have broken down the complexities of effective management and procedural integrity, let’s shift our focus to a commonly used analogy: the Iceberg. Visualizing what we have uncovered with regards to the integration of procedures and culture we have created what we refer to as The Iceberg of Excellence. This concept highlights what is visible – our procedures, which are merely the surface. Below lies the immense, yet often unseen, cultural depth that truly anchors organizational success.
Above the surface, “Quality Procedures” represent the explicit, documented aspects of the organization’s quality management system. These are the standard operating procedures, guidelines, and policies that employees follow to ensure consistency and conformance with quality standards. They are the measurable and auditable practices that organizations put in place to meet certifications like ISO 9001. Visible to all, these procedures are the tangible actions taken to maintain quality in products or services—essentially, they’re the “what” and “how” of the organization’s commitment to quality.
Below the surface, “Company Quality Culture“ refers to the collective mindset and underlying values that permeate an organization. This encompasses the beliefs, attitudes, and unwritten rules that shape how employees interact, make decisions, and ultimately adhere to the quality procedures above the surface. It’s the shared understanding of why quality matters and the intrinsic motivation that drives employees to not just follow procedures but to continually seek ways to improve them. This aspect of culture is less visible but no less critical; it’s the bedrock upon which the observable quality procedures rest. It includes the organization’s commitment to quality beyond checklists and audits, where the true essence of the company’s approach to quality is lived out in the day-to-day behaviors and decisions of its people.
Your Next Steps to Success
- Determine your conformance to Above the Surface Quality procedures.
- Start to be aware of Below the Surface Company Quality Culture and recognize these efforts with your workforce.
- Work with an expert.